Local musician Nolan McKelvey is nothing but prolific – he estimates that he has released an album of original music almost every year since 1999.
Still, if you happen to meet him strumming the double bass in a Phoenix subway bar, you won’t be able to hear his original tunes.
“I love playing in bars,” he says. “I love playing my bass and singing harmony and singing every cover ever. It’s absolutely super fun for me, but not when it’s my songs.”
McKelvey, whose original music covers a wide range of genres, from rock and country to folk and bluegrass, calls his songs “really thoughtful, sensitive and contemplative” – perhaps not the best fit for a noisy tavern.
Instead, the North Phoenix resident prefers to perform at events better designed to allow attendees to focus on the music, which is why he will be on stage tonight, Thursday, June 23, at the Musical Instrument Museum’s Music Theater.
McKelvey has performed in different configurations over the years: solo, with Nolan McKelvey and 33, with a collaborative project out of Boston called The Benders, and with the bluegrass band Muskellunge. Tonight, the lineup includes him on guitar (a deviation from standing bass, his main instrument), Tim Hogan on bass, Megyn Neff on violin and Gary Smith on drums.
“The MIM theater is just one of the best places I’ve ever acted in,” he says. “You can hear a pin drop in there and it’s a beautiful place to present my songs. If you want your songs to be heard, it’s the perfect place because it’s sonically amazing in a way that makes you want to hear it. . This is what I like about it. “
It has been a long way to become a recurring artist at MIM. McKelvey grew up in Michigan and started playing double bass in fifth grade. He started college at Michigan State University, then moved to Northern Arizona University.
“I turned 21 in Flagstaff,” he recalls. “The next day, I started doing concerts.”
He found that Flagstaff was a place where he wasn’t expected to play just covers, where he could perform original music and find a receptive audience.
After touring the country to places like San Francisco and Boston, he returned to Flagstaff, eventually settling in Phoenix in 2010.
His latest album, In the silence, it was a collaboration between him, Neff and Hogan. It is a collection of soothing and melancholy music with undertones of folk and bluegrass.
“I present [my music] in different ways, “says McKelvey.” Sometimes it’s a little more rock, sometimes it’s a little more bluegrass, sometimes it’s folk. So it’s a bit difficult to spot.
He points to The Band and Bob Dylan as influences in songwriting, as well as The Grateful Dead and Elvis Costello. He plays double bass, electric bass and acoustic guitar, but says he is primarily concerned with the lyrics and “using my instrument as a vehicle to present a song”.
In addition to his daily work as an expert witness in workers’ compensation cases (he has a masters degree in rehab), McKelvey soon has a concert scheduled in Flagstaff and often backs up Mark Zubia and Jesse Valenzuela at Scottsdale’s Old Town Tavern on Tuesday evening.
And, of course, he’s working on his next album, which he hopes to release later this year.
“I have five songs completed for this year’s record and six more that are in the works,” he says, and as always, the heart of the album will come from the words.
“There’s a real emphasis on lyrics and trying to paint an image as a songwriter. That’s the real focus of my writing and my music.”
Nolan McKelvey Trio (with Gary Smith). 7:30 pm Thursday 23 June. Music for musical instruments Musical Theater, 4725 East Mayo Boulevard. Tickets cost $ 21.50- $ 26.50. Visit the site to purchase tickets.